An unexpected resurgence of gun control proposals following last month’s shooting at a Florida high school is showing signs of ebbing in the U.S. Congress, where a bill to strengthen a national background check for gun ownership is treading water despite public pressure in favor of it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, so far has held back on bringing it to the floor for debate and a vote even though it has at least 69 co-sponsors in the 100-member chamber.
McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that he was “extremely interested” in passing both the background check measure and a school safety bill “soon,” but he did not elaborate.
The background check bill aims to improve the investigation of prospective gun buyers who have criminal backgrounds.
Students, their parents and gun control activists increased efforts nationwide to address gun-related deaths in the United States after 14 students and three adults were shot and killed by a former student at a school in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.
The background check bill is being pushed by Senator John Cornyn following last November’s mass shooting at a church in his home state of Texas that was carried out by someone with a domestic violence conviction. That crime was not reported to the federal gun-check data base.
“I’m convinced that those 26 people and the 20 more who were wounded would be alive today and the injured would not have been shot if an appropriate background check system had been in place,” Cornyn said on Tuesday.
Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, has accused Democrats of erecting roadblocks to his bill by demanding debate on broader, tougher gun controls, even though they also support the background check measure.
Proposals favored by gun control advocates, including a ban on assault-style weapons and the closing of loopholes on requiring background checks before gun purchases, are opposed by the National Rifle Association gun rights group, which has broad influence in U.S. politics through its election campaign donations that largely go to Republicans.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has called for a full-fledged debate on guns, including legislation closing loopholes that let certain sales at gun shows and over the internet to skirt background checks.
Democrats also want votes on banning assault-style weapons like the one used in Parkland and legislation to facilitate gun restraining orders on people thought to be posing an imminent danger to a community.
“Our Republican friends hope we’ll pass something tiny, something small, so they can clap their hands and say they did something on gun violence and move on,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor.
A handful of Republican senators oppose Cornyn’s background check bill as written, even though it has the support of the National Rifle Association.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has stepped back from his tough talk of just a few weeks ago in which he suggested raising the minimum age for some weapons purchases and even foregoing “due process” court procedures in order to speed law enforcement’s ability to take guns away from those threatening violence.
Against that backdrop, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday is slated to debate a bill authorizing $50 million a year to help schools and law enforcement agencies prevent violent attacks.
The bill stops short, however, of allowing the money to be used to train and arm teachers and other school officials so they can attempt to repel shooters.
With McConnell devoting Senate floor debate time this week and next to other legislation, there is the possibility that any gun measure will have to wait at least until April because of a two-week Spring break.
Some gun advocates fear that by then the political will in Congress for gun legislation will have evaporated.
Democrats disagree, noting that Wednesday’s planned nationwide walkouts by students demanding tougher gun laws will be followed by demonstrations across the United States and elsewhere on March 24.
Also, a makeshift memorial on the Capitol grounds was receiving national media attention. Comprised of about 7,000 pairs of shoes, it commemorates child gun-related deaths since the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Katanga Johnson, Susan Cornwell and Amanda Becker; editing by Grant McCool